Third State Books – A New Publishing House Amplifying Stories from Asian America

Living within five miles of Stanford University, I often attend talks there that are  open to the public. I recently went to a Stanford Asian Pacific American Alumni Club (SAPAAC) and Stanford’s Asian American Student Association sponsored panel discussion: Owning our Narrative: Conversations with the First Asian American Publishing House, Third State Books, This talk featured the founders and authors of Third State Books, a new publishing house focused exclusively on amplifying Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander voices and stories.

The panelists included (above: from left to right):

  • Charles Kim, Co-Founder and President of Third State Books and a Stanford lecturer.
  • Stephanie Lim, Co-Founder & CEO of Third State Books.
  • Eric Toda, Third State Author, Global Head of Social Marketing at Meta
  • Dion Lim, Third State Author and a two-time Emmy Award–winning TV news anchor and reporter for ABC7 News in San Francisco
  • Norman Chen, CEO of The Asian American Foundation, a Third State Books Partner

Before the talk, I didn’t really know that much about the book publishing industry except that I was briefly involved with ebooks back in the early 2000s when I worked for Adobe (and was even quoted in a Harvard Business School case). Charles Kim has been in the publishing industry for over thirty years and first gave a high level overview of the industry hat really got me fired up early in the event. Here are some facts he cited about the U.S. publishing landscape and how consolidated the book industry is:

  • Big 5” publishers control 60% to 70% of English-language book sales
  • Publishing is centered in New York City – majority minority (over 70%+ non-white, but the “Big 5″is 85% white)
  • 80% to 90% of book agents, editors, marketing, librians, etc are white – and are more white the more senior the role in the book industry
  • African Americans are approximately 14% of the U.S. population and there are over 100 publishing houses focused on African American authors and stories, etc.
  • Asian Americans are growing to almost 7% of the U.S. population – and Third State Books is the first publishing house focused on Asian American authors and stories.
  • Book publishing is a $26 billion industry in the United States (U.S. domestic box office theater revenue in 2023 was $9 billion, peaked at $11 billion pre-pandemic)

This got me really mad, like almost like when I first started going to political events in the San Francisco Bay Area and not seeing any politically active Asian Americans (which has started to change). As Charles had stated, there should be more!

Charles also told of his own personal story where his mother left an abused husband and emigrated from Korea to American – Maine to be specific, with her 3 children, including himself. He spent a lot of his childhood reading books in a library while she worked. Talk about humble beginnings and the American Dream!

Charles and others descriptions of the publishing industry reminded me of the parody and recently Oscar nominated film that I saw (and enjoyed!) that mocked the publishing industry, American Fiction, which portrays white publishers looking to publish African American titles to a primarily white audience to perpetuate existing stereotypes of African American life.

That could be said of the existing American publishing industry around with Asian American authors and narratives. While African Americans have their own ecosystem of publishing houses, and companies like Third State Books need to exist. If not them, then who? More Asian American publishing houses need to be there along with more Asian Americans in the publishing industry!

From the Third State Books mission web page:

Third State Books is the first general interest publishing house focused solely on bringing Asian American voices, stories, and issues to audiences who cherish them.  AAPIs are the fastest-growing ethnic group in America, with over 30 million people in the US and Canada, and we believe Asian American culture transcends boundaries and enriches all of our communities and our lives.

A cornerstone of the Third State Books ethos is narrative change; owning our own stories rather than allowing the homogenous and extremely gate-kept traditional book publishing industry to present this narrative on our behalf. Through fiction and nonfiction, for adults and children, Third State Books will publish stories that more fully represent authentically Asian American experiences to universal audiences.

Our name, “Third State,” refers to the unique experience of being a bridge between cultures as Asian Americans. We proudly occupy a distinctive space and identity all our own.

Third State Books is a proudly independent publishing house distributed worldwide by Publisher’s Group West, a division of Ingram Content Group.”

What also bothered me considerably was that while Dion Lim is publishing a book on the anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID pandemic, not ONE book has been published on this subject since the pandemic started in January 2020. That is just totally ridiculous! To think that I’ve probably blogged more about anti-Asian hate crimes than has been published through traditional means is kind of mind boggling, including this well known incident that went national (where I first met Norman Chen at one of these events below)

Sadly, I had only heard of Third State Books from this event, but the publishing house was founded about a year ago, around January 2023:

Publishing industry veteran Charles Kim has teamed up with digital marketing executive Stephanie Lim to launch Third State Books, a house focused exclusively on Asian American and Pacific Islander voices and stories. Third State is based in San Francisco, and its first title will be Not Your Model Minority by Dion Lim, the Emmy-winning San Francisco–based news anchor known for her reporting on violence against Asian Americans. The book will explore the resilience and togetherness of the AAPI community in response to anti-Asian hate and violence; it’s due out in early 2024.

Stephanie Lim also has experience in publishing, and early in her career worked as an intern in Penguin Putnam’s children’s division. It was challenging, she said, to connect—personally and professionally—with her white colleagues there, and she found the salary impossible to live on. She then shifted into “a career more acceptable to my immigrant parents”—in digital marketing and technology.

By establishing Third State Books, Lim intends to provide a home for those like herself and others who have been marginalized, underserved, and overlooked by the New York publishing establishment. “We are looking to break through this historically well-guarded and gate-kept industry and enable Asian American storytellers to tell stories on their own terms,” she said, “without having to answer to the inherent biases, whims and ‘gut feelings’ of the established system, which has never been data-driven or objective and has not endeavored to truly understand them.”

A common theme that I have heard over the years is that Asian American children taking traditional model minority career routes, later in life (especially if they’ve financially secured themselves to make a career pivot) move on from traditional careers like being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, and accountant to something in the creative fields. My favorite example is my fellow Duke alum (Duke ’90), Dr. Ken Jeong becoming an actor. If you are interested in writing for for Third State Books, they continually accept submissions.


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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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